THIRTEEN Evangelical bishops have written to GAFCON expressing sympathy with much of its analysis of the Anglican Communion and a desire to “build bridges . . . in order to further the work of the gospel in England”.
The letter, signed by the diocesan bishops of Peterborough, Durham, Winchester, Blackburn, Carlisle, Guildford, and Southwell & Nottingham is a response to the Letter to the Churches issued at the end of GAFCON’s gathering in Jerusalem in June (News, 22 June).
Four of them — Blackburn, Carlisle, Durham, and Peterborough — were also signatories to a letter earlier this month warning of a possible split over teaching on marriage (News, 19 October).
“We, too, see our task, as set out in the scriptures and in the ordinal, to be shepherds of the flock, to guard the gospel and to teach the faith,” the 13 write: there was nothing in section one of the letter (“Proclaiming God’s Gospel”) with which they would disagree.
Among the assertions made in this section is that “Secularism seeks to exclude God from all public discourse and to dismantle the Christian heritage of many nations. This has been most obvious in the redefinition of what it means to be human, especially in the areas of gender, sexuality, and marriage. . . Tragically, there has been a failure of leadership in our churches to address these threats to the gospel of God.”
The bishops write: “We cannot disagree with the GAFCON diagnosis concerning the tear in the fabric of the Communion.” This diagnosis points to “the rejection of Lambeth I.10 in word and deed by the Episcopal Church USA and later by some other Anglican provinces” as the source of the “tear”.
They continue: “We see it as our present calling to remain committed to the Church of England, faithful to our ministry as Bishops in the Church of God. There may come a time when the Church of England (or indeed any Church) departs from the biblical and apostolic Faith and this might occur for any number of reasons, although there are some obvious current presenting issues set out in the Letter. The core doctrine of the Church of England remains unchanged.”
They refer to “some popular misrepresentation of the current House of Bishops which alleges that we are heterodox; we recognise the fears, but our personal conversations and experience lead us to the conclusion that that perception is far from the normative reality.”
At the Primates Meeting in 2016, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that the Bench of Bishops was “described by the longer standing members as the most orthodox since World War II”, citing the Church’s exemption from the Same Sex Marriage Act as “showing that our voice is still heard against the prevailing wind of our society, and at much cost to ourselves, by the way” (News, 15 January 2016).
The 13 bishops “regret that no recognition is given in the Letter to those who in good conscience believe it is right to stay within their current Anglican structure”, and state that they “value the continuing witness of the Communion Partners in TEC [the Episcopal Church] and Canada”. They also desire “greater clarity about the relationship between GAFCON UK and AMiE [Anglican Mission in England]”, and a better understanding of “how we can best build bridges with those two groups in order to further the work of the gospel in England”.
They are “not convinced” that Andy Lines, consecrated a “Missionary Bishop for Europe” in the Anglican Church in North America(ACNA) (News, 7 July 2017), is “best placed to represent an authentic Anglican voice and to articulate the need for and work for the reform of the Church of England”.
But they “resonate” with the call for ACNA and the Anglican Church in Brazil to be invited to the Lambeth Conference. With regard to GAFCON’s call for Provinces not to be invited, the bishops write that this is “a matter for the Archbishop”, but imply that they do not disagree with GAFCON: “Clearly, representations will need to be made to him by all orthodox Anglicans, in order to indicate the strength of feeling on this issue”.
They conclude: “We hope that you will understand our continuing commitment to the Church of England, which we see as privilege, gift, and calling, and that you will hear our request to work together closely as partners in the gospel as we journey into God’s future.”